Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rocky VII

I recall a story of a recent defeat that was more disheartening and sickening than a Lady Gaga display — caught at the wire with thousands of fans hanging like icicles on every stride.

I watched the race from atop a chair in the restaurant at which I worked. I told my tables that, to loosely reference “Good Will Hunting,” ‘I had to see about a colt.”

It was the 2004 Belmont Stakes. That’s right. Smarty Jones. This guy had no problem getting 10 furlongs. In all honesty, he had no problem getting 12 furlongs.

Right now he’s having a hard time getting laid.

Once upon a time his stud fee was $100,000. When Birdstone, the horse who beat him in the Belmont Stakes, went to stud he sold his swimmers for $10,000. Paul Krugman take note: don’t follow the Dow, follow Smarty’s stud fee.
When Smarty’s runners hit the dirt it was the summer of 2008. Back then Big Brown was all the rage, Larry Jones was less popular than Saddam Hussein in the eyes of PETA, and Pyro flamed out worse than Wayne Gretzky’s Olympic torch. Also a creatively-starved Kid Rock took riffs from “Werewolves of London” and “Sweet Home Alabama” and parlayed them into his own Top 10 hit. The television show “Lost” taught us that you can go back home ... until you’re summoned back some island to fulfill your destiny. And in politics the “mission” had been “accomplished” for five years. Glad that got settled.

Who would have thought that Smarty Jones — winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes — would be a bargain just six years into his breeding career? Ten grand for Elusive Quality-type bloodline? Just ask Quality Road’s backers if they like the world’s best miler.

Breeding champions ain’t fast food. There’s no drive-up window. However at 10,000 clams, that’s a value meal and Smarty’s majority owner, Pat Chapman, aims to get this disciple of Rocky Balboa back to the state that throws batteries at Dallas Cowboy wide outs.

"I want him in Pennsylvania," Chapman told the Philadelphia Daily News. "It just depends on [finding the right farm] and the right partners, work out some financial things. I would like to see it happen."

Smarty Jones has sired 23 more winners than Birdstone but what Birdstone had was one of those freakishly good years that makes him look like, well, a stud. Think of how serendipitous Birdstone’s 2009 “Big Three” ran. First Stone Legacy finishes second to Rachel Alexandra in the Kentucky Oaks. Then the gelding Mine That Bird gets the ballsiest ride and water-skied over the mud to beat far classier horses in the Derby. His best finish has been second in the Preakness. He hasn’t been close since. And yes, Summer Bird was a monster to win the Belmont, gets second in the Haskell, wins the Travers, wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and finishes a challenging fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. What’s to keep Smarty Jones from having the same fortune?

In a way, he already has.

In Japan Smarty sired his first millionaire, the filly Keiai Gerber. The Japanese love a good horse —whether on the track or on their dinner plates — and they are pitching harder than Roger Clemens to get Smarty to settle in the Land of the Rising Sun.

"The Japanese really, really want him," Chapman said. "We've turned down some nice offers from Japan. I keep saying, 'No, he's not leaving the country.' "

As far as horse racing goes, Smarty Jones is an American Hero. You know who goes to Japan? Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball, Bobby Valentine, and Ferdinand. Each of their careers has been toasted.

What’s the worst that can happen for Smarty Jones if he moves back to Pennsylvania? Perhaps he gets inferior mares. I don’t see Rags to Riches being hauled to the Keystone State, but then again he is the Derby winner and came a length away from winning the Triple Crown.

This is a story right out of Rocky. He was the underdog (in spirit, not at the windows) and a people’s champ once. He’s blue collar through and through. Let the Kentucky Boys have their A.P. Indy and their Ivan Drago’s. We’ll take Smarty back with our black coffee and steal-toe boots because he’s one of us.

Give him a pair of Wrangler jeans, four Red Wing boots, and we’ll sing “Glory Days” till at the mooooooon.

Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project Six Weeks in Saratoga and The Last Championship at The Blog Itself where he tirelessly awaits a willing publisher. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Irish Car Bomb

The Irish Car Bomb

What he’s doing is harder than the Triple Crown.

What he’s doing is harder than Elin Nordegren in divorce court.

What’s he’s doing is harder than a day in the sweat box with a rubber suit and the company of Rush Limbaugh.

He’s Paddy O’Prado and he’s one win away from winning the Grand Slam of Grass.

This is hitting a single off the Rays, a double off the Cardinals, a triple off the Red Sox, and a home run against the Yankees. This is seven Tour de France’s in a row ... only more impressive.
Because Americans hate grass more than Nancy Reagan this could take some explaining. The Grand Slam of Grass — like the Triple Crown — can only be won by a three year old but that’s where its similarities stop. A colt must visit New Kent Virginia at underappreciated Colonial Downs and win the Colonial Turf Cup at 9 ½ furlongs. Then come back and win the Virginia Derby at 10 furlongs. Wait two months? Sure, come back and win the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park — again at 10 furlongs — and now we start talking ... or do we?

Grass is king across the pond. The biggest races are all grass, lawn, as alive as you and I, not dead like silty earth. There’s a reason why Saratoga and Belmont’s turf courses are named for people, right? Mellon and Widener. What’s the dirt called? That’s right. Dirt.

(Unless, of course, we’re talking about Joe Dirt, the character played to perfection by David Spade in the 2001 movie “Joe Dirt”.)

Here’s how sad this story is. In Mike Curry’s report in the Thoroughbred Times it is first mentioned that Paddy O’Prado was the third-place finisher in the 2010 Kentucky Derby. It is not until the penultimate graf he mentions the El Prado colt’s Colonial Turf Cup and Virginia Derby victories.

Want to know what’s even sadder? The Grand Slam of Grass is on hiatus and along with it the $5 million bonus for sweeping the three aforementioned races along with the Breeders’ Cup Turf run at 12 furlongs.

“It's disappointing," said trainer Dale Romans after the Virginia Derby. “It'd be nice to have two legs of it down, but that's the economics of today's racing.”

In 2004 Romans trained Kitten’s Joy, a colt who went on to win the Va Derby and Secretariat. He finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

"I thought I'd never see a horse as good as Kitten's Joy," Romans told Daily Racing Form. "I'm starting to think this one might be."

Why the Slam was put on hiatus baffles me. No horse has hit it so what’s the problem? It’s not like New York Lottery has been giving out free winning tickets. We’re not giving college kids smoking pot a bottomless tray of boneless chicken wings ... not that I would know what that is like.

Jockey Kent Desormeaux, whose personal life has been in shambles of late, had the mount for the Secretariat and was noticeably high (poor choice of words???) on the horse.

"When we turned for home, the guys in front of me just cut for the wire," Desormeaux told the Form. "He was just faster than them."

Now there is enough time to finish a semester at college between now and the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs so anything can happen. Where he’ll race is anyone’s best guess but he’ll likely take a shot at older horses before he meets up against the big boys in the BC. Gio Ponti’s reign could be heading to a close. If he has a lost a step Paddy O’Prado is right there on his heels.

So who else is Paddy O’Prado gaining on? If Lookin’ At Lucky thinks he’s got Champion Three Year Old locked up with a win in the Preakness and Haskell he’d better think again. Super Saver will need to win the Travers decisively and not get embarrassed against either Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Dear Readers: This is not your cue to talk about Rachel Alexandra and/or Zenyatta a potential match up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic).

In honor of Paddy O’Prado, let’s have an Irish Car Bomb: drop a split-jigger of Jamesons and Bailey’s Irish Cream into a pint of Guinness and slam it down.

Not that I would know what that is like either.

Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project “Six Weeks in Saratoga” and "The Last Championship" at The Blog Itself. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Wine that Cooks Off

How is this fair?

Here he is, Big Brown, surrounded by three Australian beauties (Kate Waterhouse, Alexandra Agoston O’Connor, and Rachael Finch) and what looks to be Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. The last time I had three women smile at me I had to pay for it.

I find it no such coincidence that two of the women have the both Rachael and Alexandra in their names.

Big Brown’s not the only one who seems excited by this photograph, but it just goes to show you what flash-in-the-pan brilliance delivers, no low and slow here.

Hopefully his flight back from Australia is better that Oceanic Flight 815. But what if he were to suddenly crash on a mysterious island in the Pacific? Who would he run into? Ghosts of racing’s past? The Smoke Monster?
Maybe Vincent the yellow lab would find him in the bamboo thickets and lead him to the beach where he be forced into a leadership role, the same role he possessed as 2008 Champion Three Year Old.

Big Brown’s precocity seems mirrored by another two year old who ran Monday at the Spa by the name of Kantharos—a colt named after a type of Greek pottery used for drinking which possesses large looped handles that extend above the lip of the pot. What is the significance? Who knows. His owner also named a horse Kensei—an honorary title give to a warrior of legendary skill in swordsmanship.

Yes, Stonestreet Stables has what looks to be brilliant young colt and how bad do you think JJ wants to get to the Derby? After watching Kantharos burn up the sealed highway in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special to win by 7 ¼ lengths JJ won’t need his Cialis for a week.

“You like a horse a lot,” said winning trainer Steve Asmussen, “and like how he’s doing, but it’s the variables you have no control over. Garrett [Gomez] said it took him awhile to get into it — he thought he was cautious going over the track when he was warming up. He said that during the first 50 yards he wasn’t on the bridle much at all, but after he went a little ways he got into himself. I thought that he came into the stretch well. He hesitated a little bit when he first left [Bail Out the Cat], but late he really looked good and smooth and like he’ll go further, which is what everybody wants to know right now. What he’s done at these sprint distances is very impressive and brilliant, but we want to be greedy and get a little bit more.”

What does it mean to have a talented two year old? Not much. It gives you hope, the same way a fast-maturing 12-year-old Little Leaguer with a 5 o’clock shadow looks: mighty tough to beat.

About this time last year Dublin was the mare’s nay and now look at him: singing in a poorly-formed ABBA-style quartet with Drosselmeyer, Hot Dixie Chick, and Stardom Bound.

I have to imagine it is exciting to think that you’ve got the nation’s best juvenile colt, a colt that makes it look pretty darn easy. His daddy, Lion Heart, went hoof-to-hoof with Smarty Jones in the Derby and Preakness so you know he’ll like the distance and dirt. So what’s next? The Hopeful is too close so perhaps the one-mile Champagne at Belmont would be a good fit. More importantly it is run on October 9, seven weeks away.

So, like anything, Kantharos’ win should be praised in perspective. Daily Racing Form’s Mike Watchmaker has the right idea: “You'll have to excuse me if I don't run right out and buy a Kantharos t-shirt and fitted hat just yet. Kantharos might be a very special horse, but you just can't tell off of the Saratoga Special, a four horse race (including one first time starter) run on a tricky, slow, sealed, muddy track. I want to see more, against better, on a fast track, before I start thinking about Kantharos being the next great savior.”

If he is, he may just be taking his picture alongside a few babes and he won’t have to pay a lick for that kind of attention.

Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project “Six Weeks in Saratoga” at The Blog Itself. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

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